• Graham Eason

Ford Capri Mk3 Buyers Guide

The Capri was Ford Europe's response to the runaway success of the Mustang. The 'car you always promised yourself' was in fact a car nobody had realised they actually wanted - a sports car that was as practical and easy to own as a Cortina. In fact, a sports car that wasn't particuarly sporting. But once you could buy a Capri, everyone wanted one.

From its launch in 1969 to its demise in 1987, the Capri became a central part of the early motoring years of many, many people. Mostly men. It looked good, it seated four, it was easy to drive and there was literally a Capri for everyone, from the 1.3 L to the 3 litre Ghia. Where the white collar E Type was a one-size-fits all kind of sports car, the blue collar Capri could be personalised to be whatever you wanted it to be. From stylish family runaround to tail-sliding V6, the Capri was all things to all men.

This buying guide provides a quick introduction to the final Capri, the Mk3 launched in 1978 and sold until 1986. It's based on our experience servicing, restoring and maintaining Capris for customers and for Great Driving Days. It will give you an overview of the models and the main points to be aware of when buying a Capri. It is not intended as a comprehensive assessment - but if you do want more details feel free to contact us on 01527 893733 or email info@greatescapecars.co.uk.

A Cortina In Drag?

In the 1960s and 70s Ford were the motoring world's sales and marketing gurus. They took simple, proven mechanicals and clothed them in stylish, desirable and practical bodyshells. Then they liberally drizzled them in equipment - it was Ford that pioneered the L, GL and GXL hierarchy that was widely copied and underpinned car buying from the 1960s to 1990s.

The Capri is a classic example of this successful approach. Underneath it is identical to the Mk2 Ford Cortina and shares its drivetrain, engines and most of its running gear. Fortunately for sporting drivers this meant it was rear wheel drive.

A Success Reborn

The Mk3 Capri, in the logical way of such things, replaced the Mk2. That car, for some, represents Ford dropping the ball. In making over the stylish original Capri, Ford created a comparatively bland car, albeit with the added practicality of a hatchback. But it did make one major contribution to Capri folklore - Ford lent it (and various Escorts and Granadas) to the ITV series The Professionals, ushering an era of appointment telly to watch Bodie and Doyle bum-roll over their Capri's bonnet and blast it through some cardboard boxes. Never was product place more effective.

The Mk3 Capri tidied up the Capri's styling, bringing back quad headlamps in particular. Ford also concentrated on making the car more sporting, so in 1982 out went the heavy, aging 'Essex' 3 litre V6 engine, in came the much lighter and, thanks to fuel injection, more responsive Cologne 2.8 V6. This change was significant, not least because the new engine offered the same power as the legendary RS3100, bringing genuine sports car performance to the standard Capri range.

The 2.8 Injection topped the range and grabbed the headlines but the majority of buyers made do with the visually similar 1.3, 1.6 and 2 litre four cylinder cars. When creating the various trim levels for these cars Ford cleverly muddied the waters, replacing the poverty spec versions with names like 'Laser' and creating a mid-range sporting version called simply the 'S'.

Underneath the Mk3 was essentially just a Mk2 Cortina. But buyers didn't care, because this meant rear wheel drive in a relatively light car. So the Mk3 was fun - extremely chuckable, adept at handbrake turns and, when it needed to be, quick enough to keep up with the new breed of hot hatches.

The 2.8 Capri, however, really was the daddy. Where the old Essex engine was heavy and its performance relaxed, the newly fuel injected Cologne lump transformed the aging Capri. With 160 bhp it was genuinely quick for its time and, thanks to Bodie and Doyle, the car's lack of handling finesse was turned to its advantage. You couldn't power slide or handbrake turn a Golf GTI in quite the same way as you could with a V6 Capri.

In 1984 Ford announced the 2.8 Injection Special, which gained a much-needed limited slip differential and five speed gearbox, as well as a smarter interior.

But Volkswagen's wunderkind and its progeny were to sound the death knell for the Capri. The Golf made the Capri look old school and out of step with the times - it was associated with ponytails and 'Darren and Sharon' windscreen graphics. By the mid 80s Ford was struggling to shift it, even in Britain which was traditionally the car's best market, and it was withdrawn from continental Europe in 1984. It struggled on in the UK for two more years.

In 1986 Ford rolled the car in marketing glitter once again and announced the '280', a final edition car with limited slip differential, tarted up interior and special 'Brooklands Green' paintwork. The exact number of Brooklands models built is hotly contested as Ford simply used up bodyshells, and some standard cars havesubsequently been converted, but these were the last Capris off the production line.

Model Overview

The Mk3 Capri was available with 1.3 and 1.6 litre four cylinder engines, the 2.0 litre 'Pinto' four and the 3 litre V6 'Essex' (until 1982) and 2.8 litre 'Cologne' fuel injected V6 (from 1982).

Initially Ford stuck to standard trim levels like 'L' and 'S', before introducing a raft of specials including the Calypso, Cameo, Cabaret and Laser. Most of these, except the the S, are now extremely rare - the majority of surviving Capris are the V6 Injection and Brooklands models.

A very rare turbocharged 2.8 was available in Germany for a limited time. In the UK we got the similar Tickford Turbo version, with a very 80s body kit and turbocharged 2.8 litre V6.

The most desirable Capris today are of course the 2.8s, particularly the Brooklands. Although the 280 is mechanically identical to the Injection Special, these care are sought after because of their rarity and reputation as the 'ultimate' Capri.

However, the smaller engined cars, particularly the 2 litre Pinto S, are worth looking out for. They are rare and, with the 2 litre, not that much slower than the 2.8.

What to watch out for: Bodywork

When buying a Capri, the bodywork should be your first (and almost only) consideration. Rust is the Capri Mk3's biggest enemy. This is essentially a 1960s design updated for the 1980s and it was never really meant to last. It was built to a budget and its durability reflects that.

The bodywork problem is compounded by scarce parts supply. The Capri Club (it's actually more of a business than a car club) is probably your best resource for parts. Supply is improving all the time, but some items are either unavailable or only second hand.

When checking over a Capri Mk3, here are the main areas to check for rot:

1. Front panel around grille and valance

2. Check the chassis rails in the engine bay for accident damage

3. Front wings rot badly, particularly front and rear edge due to poor spray protection

4. Inner wings, particularly strut tops and triangular gusset on V6

5. A posts - if the doors drop, this indicates a problem

6. Sills

7. Door bottoms due to poor drainage

8. Rear spring hangars

9. Wheelarches, side valances and around filler cap

10. Tailgate base and hinge mounts

(1) Front panel (2) Chassis rails (3) Front wings (4) Inner wings (5) A posts (6) Sills (7) Door bottoms (8) Rear spring hangars (9) Wheelarches (10) Tailgate

(1) Front panel (2) Chassis rails (3) Front wings (4) Inner wings

(8) Rear spring hangars (10) Tailgate base & hinges

What to watch out for: Mechanicals

Capri engines and gearboxes are generally very robust - even if you do need to switch units or change anything, unlike bodywork parts, availability is generally very good. Most Capris, particularly the 2.8s, will have been driven hard at least at some time in their life, so check for the usual signs of wear including smoke and knocking and cream in the coolant. V6s 2.8s do suffer head gasket failure.

Pay particular attention to the cooling system, which can clog due to poor maintenance, leading to overheating.

Gearboxes are fairly robust, but on the V6 particularly they will wear synchros at higher mileages. Check for smooth change and any jumping out of gear. Vibration will indicator prop shaft wear.

What to watch out for: Running Gear

Many Capris have been driven hard so it is important to check the suspension carefully, particularly track control arm bushes, dampers and strut top mounts. Some cars are now little more than show queens so get little use - this will be obvious from the condition of the calipers, which can seize through lack of use and discs can warp and judder.

Not all Capris had power assistance but those that do can suffer from an unusual phenomenon where the steering is lighter in one direction than the other. Experts suggest different cures, but simply refurbishing the rack does not always eradicate the problem. If the car you see has this fault, beware that it may not be a simple fix. Or negotiate and live with it.

What to watch out for: Interior

As with the bodywork, Capri interiors were not built to last. Seat bolsters tend to wear and, on non V6 cars it can be difficult to obtain replacement trim. On all cars the dashboards tend to crack and, because this is a common problem, obtaining replacements can be difficult or nearly impossible.

Rear parcel shelves tend to sag and, like dashboards, are difficult to obtain because this is a common problem. A new replacement part is available but not identical to the original.

How it Drives

Whichever model you choose, the Mk3 Capri is an absolute hoot to drive. You don't really need the V6 to enjoy it, although of course it's the one everyone wants, if only for that gorgeous burble.

The handling can feel antiquated compared to a 1980s rival like a Golf, and the steering is too light for some, but overall a Capri tends to communicate what it is doing very well. The back end is particularly wayward, and the LSD only partially tames it. All cars feel much quicker than they actually are, thanks to poor noise suppression and low gearing, but the Capri really is not about speed, it's about the journey.

All Capris are comfortable and spacious for four and the view down the bonnet provides an E Type-esque sense of occasion.

The Capri's only real drawback is its brakes - they're very poor with spongey feel. Ford added more power but did not address how anyone might actually stop quickly.

Few cars deliver smiles per mile like a Capri. It may not be the last word in sophistication but that is part of its charm.

Which One to Buy

For many Capri buyers there really is no choice - it has to be a 2.8, preferrably a Brooklands but maybe a Special. If you must have a 2.8, go for a 5 speed car from 1984 and choose carefully based on bodywork and interior condition. Mileage will affect value but does not really alter the car's reliability or future capabilities.

If you just want a Capri and your budget won't stretch to a 2.8, take a look at the Essex V6 or the Pinto 2 litre. Both of these cars are now very thin on the ground, so what you lose in V6 kudos you gain in rarity. Both drive well and in some ways are more suited to the car's pseudo-sporting pretensions than the more willing Cologne engine.

What to Pay

There are a lot of Capris about, but most are V6s. Values have gone stratospheric in the last 3 to 4 years, from a couple of thousand for a MOT'd car to around four times that. You won't get a 2.8 for less than £10,000 unless it needs a lot of work.

The good news for the mechanically minded is that there are still a lot of doer uppers out there - shabby cars that haven't yet benefitted from the investment that appreciation bestows. You can buy complete projects for around £1,500 but expect to do a lot of work. Although the Capri is a relatively simple car to restore, the main problem will be sourcing the parts.

If you are in the market for a Brooklands, expect to pay at least £25,000. Be very careful to check provenance - because these cars attract much higher values than the mechanically identical Injection Special, and are very easy to replicate, there are many pseudo-280s out there.

Whatever you spend, always buy on bodywork condition first.

Classic Fixers has a lot of experience restoring, servicing and maintaining Capris, including the Great Driving Days 280 Brooklands hire car. To find out more call 01527 893733 or email info@greatescapecars.co.uk.

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